Just a blog for when I feel like writing…

A Walk in the Woods

I spent the morning walking in the woods:

Snowy Mountain

Snowy forest in the Canadian Rockies.

It was snowing and the quiet was all-encompassing. And my monkey mind filled that peace with songs I hate by Tull and the Stones. I really need to take a meditation course.


Radical Gardening

A couple days ago I read an article touting gardening as a tool for social and political self-sufficiency. The article has some nice gardening-related links, which is why I link to it here.

However, I personally disagree with the premise that people should garden to stick it to The Man. I don’t dig and weed because of some smug fantasy about withholding profits from ConAgra. I like to garden because it gives me something to do outside, because I can see the products of my labor grow before my eyes, and because it saves me money on fresh vegetables, which frankly are quite expensive. Since the pauperization of the American public seems to be trending worse over time, I suspect the economic argument for gardening will soon become the dominant one.

There is also another subtext of the article that bothered me, namely the fantasy that the solution to a major problem (damaging industrial agriculture) is to withdraw from the national food system and become “self-sufficient.” We are not going to live in a future where we all share home-grown organic squash with each other. That is just not an option. Industrial agriculture is trillion-dollar national policy. Even if you don’t eat the products of industrial farming, you still pay for them.

For those who do fantasize that withdrawing from “the system” is possible, let me sketch out an ugly scenario. Long before enough people take up gardening and home farming to really threaten corporate profits, the main beneficiaries of our national farm policy will move to protect their interests. Imagine a few people getting sick from organic chicken at several farmers’ markets; politicians raise an outcry, and with the backing of industry they apply industrial safety rules to all food production, squeezing out small producers who cannot afford to wash their meat in ammonia. Or, imagine that seed sharing and small-scale farming become tangled in ruinous intellectual property battles. Or, imagine that concerns about safety and local ecology are abused to super-regulate seed sharing, and home gardeners are portrayed as dangerous moonshiners. Does anyone think these things would never happen?

In the context of American farm policy, the big-is-bad/small-is-good/back-to-the-land attitude has its place, but it cannot be a substitute for national food activism. The public and private domains cannot be separated when it comes to food.

intended consequences

I am on the road today, or rather in the air, trying to fly cross-country. My flights on United Airlines were thrown into turmoil because of bad weather, and I was rebooked on a crazy three-legged trip that took me east before going west, where I am actually heading. I called a travel agent to see if I could get something better and apparently every flight on every airline to my destination was booked solid. So here I am, waiting at the airport to finish the third leg.

I don’t blame airlines for weather delays — though United and I are on quite a losing streak lately. However, I do blame them for designing a crazy just-in-time Walmart system where there is absolutely no slack whatsoever in the air transportation network. One bad snowstorm and the entire country locks up and people get stranded for days if there are any cancellations. I was lucky.

The situation highlights a major flaw in the world of deregulated flights. We have a bunch of for-profit companies in competition for customers, and to save money they collude to reduce seating capacity. Routes which used to fly Boeing 737s now have tiny Embraer 145s, and if your flight is delayed and you misconnect, you’re screwed. I often wonder how much the fuel costs saved by the airlines is offset by lost productivity as huge numbers of people spend time and money sorting out their busted itineraries.

Wouldn’t it be better to just subsidize fuel costs to keep spare capacity in the national air transportation network? I know, we can’t, because every time someone says “government subsidy” a neoliberal economist gets testicular cancer.

But seriously, it’s not like we haven’t explicitly shoveled taxpayer money at this industry before. And we do it continuously by paying for airports, security, and flight coordination.

Virtual Rome

Sometimes the internet takes you on the dumbest rides.

For example, a few nights ago I was messing around on the computer when my brain suddenly demanded that I google virtual 3D models of ancient Rome.

Why did this happen? Because I stumbled onto an article about Paul Bigot, a French architect who obsessively worked on a 1:400 plaster model of ancient Rome for thirty years.

Why was I doing that? Because I was looking up information about Leptis Magna, the ruined Roman city on the coast of Libya.

And I was doing that because I wanted to look up the word hippodrome. (Disappointingly, it’s just a horse track.)

And I was doing that because I looked up the word velodrome… which was in a slideshow about decrepit stadiums in old Olympic cities.

Have I learned anything from this crazy monkey-brained ping-ponging around wikipedia? Do I even need to answer that question? The VR Rome thing is cool, though, in a mid-1990s computer graphics kind of way.

Oh No! Oh no, no, no, no…

Today I came across a Guardian article (two months old) reporting that a group of freaked out children and parents got treated to an explicit preview of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac while waiting for the start of the movie Frozen. I found this incredibly funny and utterly tragic at the same time.

I looked up the trailer and it made me, sitting alone in a room, pretty uncomfortable… though that might have been my fremdscham for the grannies, who had to explain to their grandkids why they were seeing a giant close-up of lady parts set to Rammstein.

Don’t know yet if I’m going to see this movie. I have found that von Trier’s films tend to stick to the inside of my skull for days (this is a good thing), but I’m not sure I want to be cinematically dick-slapped right now. We’ll have to come back to this some other time.

The Devil Take This Code

Ars Technica has the rundown on the crazy iOS and OS X 10.9+ SSL bug that enables brain-dead man-in-the-middle attacks. Apparently it was a cut-n-paste error in Apple’s implementation of SSL… a mistake so trivial that it’s going to give me nightmares.

Seems like Apple, the world’s most valuable company by market capitalization, may not be unit testing critical software libraries before major product releases.

This is what happens, Larry!

This is what happens, Larry, when you find a stranger in the Alps don’t write unit tests!


I’m in a somber mood tonight, and I’m indulging myself by listening to somber music.

That is the orchestral version of Liszt’s Totentanz, but there are other versions, including one for solo piano. Below is an amazingly percussive recording by Valentina Lisitsa. Enjoy watching her hammer the keyboard for 15 minutes.